May 28, 2009

Ever Evolving Science

"Of all the things I've lost, I miss my tail the most." - Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis

So the big news is now "Missing Link Found!", as a 47 million-year-old lemur-like creature with opposable thumbs and fingernails has been discovered. Well, at least his remains were found.
This instantly reminded me of a post from the Dilbert Blog called, "Fossils - Still Bullshit." Scott Adams posits that most of the evidence for evolution is dumbed down so that the masses can understand it. But that the simplification creates misleading and false information.

It has always struck me as a bit absurd that we base how entire species look on one skeleton. (And sometimes on pieces of a skeleton.) Can you imagine a few thousand years from now, after the machines take over the world and then humans again are triumphant, that someone digs up a skeleton and says that this is what Homo Sapiens looked like. And it just happens that they dug up some inbred hillbilly whose grandfather was also his brother. On top of that, the only surviving record from our time is a Li'l Abner cartoon.

This really just gave me an excuse to rant. On an episode of Mythbusters debunking shark myths, they used peppers (Scotch Bonnets, I believe) as a possible shark deterrent. It didn't work. Then the voice over says that only mammals find the capsaicin in peppers to be an irritant. (Yes, I did have to look up how to spell capsaicin.) The voice over continues that capsaicin does not work on birds, and apparently fish. That pepper plants had evolved to better protect their seeds. This was said with all sincerity and as a matter of fact.
And all that came to mind is, "REALLY?!?"
It seems so illogical to me to give plants the ability to think. That a plant would know what class of animal is eating its fruit. That it could figure out that it can produce a substance which would effectively stop that one class from eating its fruit. AND that this substance would not work on other classes of animals. (It still would want birds to take the fruit so that it would spread the seeds to other areas.)
Yet, the scientific evidence is underwhelming. There is not one bit of data that can prove this. It is strictly looking at the facts - capsaicin affects only mammals, mammals chew and destroy the seeds when consuming the seed pods, birds swallow seeds and drop them off with a pile of fertilizer to boot - and then coming up with a story (they call it a theory to make it sound more authentic) how and why this came to be.

Now, for the record, I do not have a problem with the Earth and Universe being billions of years old. If anything it goes towards proving God's omnipotence. Most believe in that God was around long before he ever put us on the planet. Just what did he do "pre-Adam"? Sat in the dark? Why should we think that our existence on this planet is the first and only time that God created life?
The detail that traps "creationists" is the death part. According to them and a strict reading of the Bible, there was no death on the Earth until Adam sinned. So that means the Earth can only be about 6000 years old. Dinosaurs and man were created the same "Sixth" day. They will tell you that dinosaurs even made it onto Noah's ark. That is the only way to get around the death issue.
I am not saying by any means that I know all the answers. But what if God was referring to the death of the soul? I do find it interesting that man is singled out as being formed by God, who then breathes life into him. And the KJV ends the passage with "man became a living soul."

The overwhelming truth to any and all of this is that NO ONE KNOWS! And yet we spend time and money searching for answers about our supposed past. And we take bits and pieces of bones and remains and conjure up stories to help us cope with the nagging fact we want there to be more. We want to feel special and important. We view ourselves as the pentacle of evolution. That the struggle for life on this planet has a clear winner in Man. All the while fearful in knowing how quickly this futile existence really is for (a) man. And that the real epitaph for each of us is "Of all the things I've lost, I miss my life the most."


Dubber said...

The thing that annoys me the most about this find is that it's being reported to be "the" missing link. There are, in fact, lots of missing links and this one simply appears to be between lemurs and monkeys, not between primates and humans. It may be big news to paleontologists, but it does nothing to further the understanding of the origins of man.

It also annoys me beyond belief when the press and popular science describe evolution as if there was some sort of intent on the part of the species, e.g. there was less competition for the leaves on the tops of trees, so giraffes grew longer necks. Evolution is simply the process by which a genetic mutation happens to be passed on and replicated because the mutation wasn't so debilitating that the organism that had it couldn't reproduce and pass on said mutation. The theory of natural selection suggests only beneficial mutations get passed on, like there's some overarching intent on the part of the species to better itself or adapt to its environment, but it seems to me that if that were the case, gazelles would be getting faster to outrun cheetahs and cheetahs would be getting faster to catch gazelles and soon gazelles and cheetahs would be in this perpetual arms race of speed and agility with each generation. Yet I don't think gazelles and cheetahs are getting any faster. Just a hunch.

That whole intent thing is also imputed to the origin of life because it seems to describe why the most rudimentary single-celled organism--the most ubiquitous and hardiest form of life--would evolve into multi-celled organisms. If there was some overwhelming advantage to being a multi-cell organism, why would single-celled organisms continue to exist (and still be the most survivable form of life)? Seems to me something more is needed to provide that intent, but science would have us believe it's bind chance. Riiiiiiight. My favorite satirical explanation of atheism addresses this, which says:

Atheism: the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing, and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything, and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason whatsoever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs. Makes perfect sense.

Scott Johnson said...

I remember seeing many years ago where a scientist had calculated the odds of an organism attaining flight. Then he stepped through the odds as he added different groups. The odds for 4 different groups - dinosaurs, insects, birds, and mammals - were beyond astronomical. And that is just one piece of evolution.

The media's response to this is too reminiscent of the Mars rock a few years back. Scientists were showing what looked like microscopic "worms" that could have easily been made by the formation of the rock. Yet large headlines the next day read. "Life on Mars discovered!"

I have been racking my brain for any type of evidence where nature works from chaos to order. Virtually everything in nature breaks down, moving from order to chaos.

You really should take your comment and turn it into a post. That is some inspired writing!